Sabb Week: Guild President Debate roundup

Sabb Week: Guild President Debate roundup

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Image: University of Exeter Students' Guild

The candidates for Guild President concluded this series of debates with some of the most electric performances seen throughout the week. Coupled with a Chair whose methods mixed precision with ferocity, and a series of revealing questions, this was the clear highlight of the five debates.

Beginning, as is now tradition, with the one-minute speech, Will Vasey kicked off by declaring his commitment to making Exeter as affordable as possible. Soma Pirityi cited his desire to protect student democracy and step up when making choices, whilst Peter Gillibrand called for the representation of students both nationally and locally, alongside greater transparency. Meanwhile, Helena Brenner cited her manifesto as carrying the ‘changes people wanted’, which was echoed by Luke Avery in his speech. Ed Mudd, meanwhile, had lost odds-on and had been forced to run for the position, and lost it again and was thus forced to turn up. He therefore decided to parody Donald Trump and expressed his desire to ‘Make Exeter Great Again’, whilst decked out in a hat parodying the one’s used by the current President. Shraddha ‘Shades’ Chaudhary, meanwhile, cited her experience with societies and her desire to make people smile.

Kane Davis was unfortunately absent from the debate, owing personal matters. However, he had sent along an introduction to his manifesto, which was read out by the Chair, and one that expressed his belief that students at Exeter were multitalented, and affirmed his view that he possessed the strongest understanding of the Guild.

These speeches were swiftly followed by a buzzer round, which saw Gillibrand take both an early lead and overall victory through his knowledge of the various components of the Guild, although strong performances were also seen from the rest of the field.

Following on from this, the Chair turned to scrutinise each individual, beginning with Vasey. Having been defeated in the Welfare & Diversity last year he was immediately asked why he was running for President. This was retorted by Vasey declaring how much he had learnt over the past year, and that he wanted to put what he had done and learnt int practice. 

The next point of scrutiny was his plan for ‘Guild Trips’, which Will defended by stating that they promoted inclusivity, whilst his proposition of creating a Night Bus was also placed under the microscope, with his defence being that ‘there is no price that you can put on student safety’. Save, of course, for the pound you would have to pay to use it.

Pirityi was up next, and was required to defend his accusations of financial misconduct amongst societies, as well as his attack on the Guild’s IT department, where he cited the possibility that they were either lazy of incompetent, comments which were quickly met with vigorous scrutiny from the Chair.

Avery followed, and was asked to defend his comments that 1 in 5 graduates from Exeter were unemployed, as well as his desire to modify CareerZone, in order to help students fulfil their dreams. He further called for students to be ‘part of something bigger’, in essence, to make Exeter better together.

Gillibrand was required to defend his policy of installing sensors on campus for various requirements, stating that they would ‘pay for themselves’, whilst calling for the University stop running like a business and recognise students, and for the University to better advertise what students were doing in their spare time, such as volunteering and undertaking personal projects. His final question came in the form of a query over his resignation as a Student Trustee the previous year, which he stated he gave up to focus on other areas, whilst pledging to ‘commit 100%’ if elected.

Mudd called to block students from the North, because apparently he didn’t like them. Apparently he was running as a joke candidate.

Shades was interrogated over career-focused modules, and the apathy which surrounded ExFactor, which was defended by her citing that it would form a greater part of their experience, whilst also stating that A&V finance had not met up with most societies and student groups, and that this needed to change.

Brenner cited her experience working in the Guild Shop for the past two years, and, when asked about her knowledge of the Guild, stated the need to make people aware of what exists. She was also tasked with defending her claim that Wellbeing was less efficient than it could be, and her wish to expand the CareerZone, which was retorted by he statement that she would lobby the University to do more.

With this, the one-on-one scrutiny came to a close, and the debate turned to questions submitted by the current Guild President, Toby Gladwin. When asked about the biggest issue on campus, and the ways to fix it, Mudd once again ranted about the North, whilst Brenner called for an improvement to the revolving doors and for food waste collection in houses around campus. Gillibrand cited disability and accessibility, and promised to stick up for those in need if elected. Avery meanwhile called for a greater use of resources such as Student Ideas, and called for more students to get involved. Pirityi cited that the biggest problem was that students weren’t saying what they wanted. Vasey cited the lack of of affordable accommodation on campus. Shades cited a ‘double-ended’ lack of awareness, and the lack of study space.

The second concerned where the money should go from increased fees. Gillibrand demanded transparency, whilst Vasey called for caution, but added that he wanted more to be done for mental health support. Pirityi confessed uncertainty over answering, but called for a referendum on whether students wanted to pay more. Mudd demanded a water fountain on the second floor of Harrison. Avery called for the money to be spent on raising the quality of teaching in order to keep in line with TEF.  Shades echoed the point about mental health support, as did brenner.

The final question asked for the candidates to confront the recent antisemitic events which had been reported in Exeter, and how they would combat them. Pirityi called for proper communication and a university investigation. Mudd continued to talk about the North. Gillibrand called for the ‘Never Ok’ campaign to be expanded to cover racism and discrimination, whilst Shades called for sensitivity training. Brenner, meanwhile, called for the #WeAreAllExeter campaign to take the forefront, whilst Vasey cited the need to work with DVP’s and Wellbeing to help deal with these events.

Questions from the audience and Twitter came next, with the first asking them whether they were all feminists, and how they would tackle racism, sexism and classism at University. Brenner affirmed her position as a feminist and called for equal treatment, and that people had to be the ‘best we can’. Pirityi echoed this, and praised FemSoc’s events. Shades, meanwhile, called herself an Equalist , stating that Feminism has a bad reputation. Vasey stated that he recognised his privilege, was absolutely a feminist, and promised to work with Women in Business, the DVPs and other groups. Mudd also affirmed this, and called for equality, a point echoed by Avery and Gillibrand, who again called for an expansion of ‘Never Ok’.

Another question followed, which asked the candidates how they would deal with disengaged students. Gillibrand called for the implementation of a points system to encourage participation, whilst Avery highlighted innovation as being the key. Vasey called for the University to learn from practices at Falmouth’s FXU, whilst Brenner called for more emails. Shades called for a move to a more image-based method of communication, whilst Pirityi reiterated his belief in student democracy and cited the method the University used to talk to students about the Amory Hub as being an example of this.

The next query concerned the NUS’s Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions motion, passed in June 2015, and each candidate was asked what they would each to do uphold BDS. Vasey stated that he had not looked into the issue enough, and was thus unable to answer until he had looked into it properly. Mudd talked about walls. Shades called for Palestinian freedom and praised the sanctions. Pirityi confessed a position akin to Vasey’s, and called for students to be better informed. Gillibrand spoke of his opposition to the NUS as a political being, and stated that the issue was a difficult one. Brenner asked for them to reach a conclusion on the matter.

The next question concerned the data used by Avery’s manifesto to claim that 1 in 5 grads are unemployed, and asked if he accepted that it was misleading. Avery conceded, and stated that he was limited in manifesto space, whilst calling for an improvement to the CareerZone, a call echoed by Gillibrand and Pirityi. Rudd wanted to created jobs, whilst Shades stated that the employability module she wished to pursue would aid with this. Vasey praised the CareerZone’s ‘smashing’ work, and called for the establishment of a careers fair for the arts and charitable sectors. Brenner stated her support for CareerZone to focus upon different careers.

The penultimate question concerned whether any of the candidates believed that Exeposé was problematic, one that was denied by all candidates, with the candidates stating their satisfaction with a satisfactory amount of the content published. Mudd, meanwhile, stated that Exeposé were in fact peddling fake news and alternative facts.

The final question came once again came from Gladwin, who asked them why each thought that they should be President. Vasey cited his experience at University, his leadership at Nightline, and his part in the Housing Co-Op. Gillibrand affirmed his passion for representing people, especially those with disabilities, whilst Pirityi stated that he was the best candidate to fight for Student Democracy and fight problems. Shades stated that the work she had already done was reflective of her quality, whilst Avery stated that he didn’t ‘just want to represent you, I am one of you’. Mudd wanted a wall.

Overall, the debate had moments of sheer electricity between Chair and candidates, and proved both revealing and informative, thanks to nuanced and thoughtful questions from both the Guild President and the Audience. It’s a tough crowd, this one.

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